Why raising politicians wages is a bad idea…if you do it like this

Today it became public, that the newly elected grand coalition, consisting of christian democrats and social democrats, intends to increase the salary of parliamentarians from currently 8252€ to 9082€ (before taxes). They argue, that this was planned since 1995 were a law was passed that intended to match a politicians wage with that of other state employees like federal judges. While this argument might be true in a legal sense, it is nevertheless a really bad idea. They further argue, that politicians wages should be matched with the general development of wages beginning in 2016, which is a good idea. The problem is, that increasing your salary before matching your wage the development of the rest of society looks like you are filling your pockets because it is the last possibility. There are more reasons, why this is a bad idea:

The raise of 830€ is to much

Currently we are witnessing a debate about a minimal wage of 8,5€ a month for certain sectors (like coiffeurs). The neo-liberal agenda 2010 reform, pushed forward by the social democrats under Gerhard Schröder, allowed several loopholes (like temporary employment) and the creation of mini-jobs with an income 450€ a month. Currently, there are around 4,9 million people in mini-jobs. That means a raise of 830€ for politicians equals the wage of two mini jobs and is double the amount of what many people in this country earn in total. Even if we consider a minimum wage of 8,5€ a month with 40 hours work a week, the monthly wage is just around 1456€ a month (before taxes). A 830€ raise is more or less the half of what many people earn in total and most of them will never see a raise like this in their whole career? How should they accept this?

Politicians already earn enough

Acknowledging, that politicians have a tough day and a lot of workload, they should be payed fairly. No problem. However, with an average salary above 8000€ (and around 5200€ after taxes) a month they earn more than 86% of the society. Only around 14% of the working people have a salary between 5000€ – 18000€ (after taxes). The majority of the people (32%) earn between 1300 and 2600€ a month (after taxes). Considering, that the deal of representative democracy is, that the sovereignty rests with the people, but because not all people can sit in parliament, a few are selected to represent the majority, it is not appropriate of those who represent to earn significantly more. With a high income, politicians resemble only the upper 10% of society, but not the average “plumber Joe”.61755-1x2-article620

If we consider, that most of the politicians still have other jobs and earn a lot from other activities (like giving speeches), their basic salary is already to high. Abgeordnetenwatch.de estimated, that during the last legislative period 188 parliamentarians earned a total of 32 million € ancillary income. 50% of those with ancillary income are members of the CDU, while 22% of them are in the SPD. This means, that exactly those who already earn a lot besides their main job as a politician, argue for an increase in politicians wages. That this is neither in accordance with christian ethics, nor with the social democratic ambition of social equality.

The timing is bad

The timing of this debate is outright bad. A few weeks ago, we witnessed a debate about former Minister Ronald Profalla (CDU) who wanted to take a seat at the board of directors at Deutsche Bahn, after quitting his job as Head of the Chancellery for Frau Merkel. The public outrage was quite high because switching into a lobby position directly after quitting the job as a politician is of bad taste. Defenders where arguing, that it is normal that politicians switch to the free economy. While this is true, it represents a certain vanity and disconnectedness to the mood of the people. When politicians join companies, it looks as if many favors where done when the politician were still in office and that the company is saying “thank you” for your lobby cooperation. It has the taste of bribery. Now we witness the same kind of vanity again: politicians are simply not sensible to the general will of the people who do not support a salary raise for politicians, especially if this is one of the first acts of this new government. No other big legislation was passed since the new coalition entered office quite late on 17.12.2013. The new government started working effectively with the new year, meaning a little more than one month ago. Besides several debates, no big projects are done so far and it seems weird, that the first thing an astonishing majority in parliament is doing, is to raise its salary. The majority of SPD and CDU is so big, that the opposition cannot even do anything against it, because they do not have enough seats to exercise their control functions (which is generally a bad sign for democracies).

It is against the overall principles of capitalist societies

A raise as the first official act of a new government has a foul taste, because nothing else was accomplished so far. Politicians generally get not tired arguing for meritocracy: “those who do a lot shall earn a lot and those who do nothing, should not get anything”. This is the classical neo-liberal argument against the welfare state that aids the poor or supports the unemployed with benefits. Even if I do not completely agree with this, it still is the working principle of this society and represents a majority norm. But how can you expect citizens to follow this principle, if you as a representative do not care about it?  Currently there is benchmarking and assessing trend in all parts of society: economy (competition creates innovation and growth), science (publish or perish) and even civil associations. Everything is checked whether it is productive or effective. If you do not work productively, you get fired. The problem is, so far the new government did not do that much. It is time, that the principle of meritocracy is a necessary condition for politicians as well. Right now, no politician is accountable for the claims they make and for the election pledges they make. Even though coalitions sign a formal treaty at the beginning of each legislative period, they are not bound to keep what is written in this agreement. There is no assessment after each period, that the program points were accomplished in the four years. We have nothing except the claims like “this was the most efficient government ever” to estimate whether the work of governments really was productive for the betterment of society in general.

This will increase disenchantment with politics

Later this year there will be European elections. The expected voter participation will be quite low. The current behavior of the grand coalition will not do anything good for this. If politicians increase their wages without even justifying it against the broader population and remain in a mode of vanity, disenchantment with politics will grow. What the Pofalla-case and the case of former federal president Christian Wulff (CDU) have in common is that famous politicians were executed in the public media because of their behavior. Wulff was charged for taking benefits from lobby friends and thus had to resign as federal president. This whole thing only became a scandal because of disenchantment with politics: currently the population is quite vary for misbehavior of politicians. Everything that indicates the ugly truth that “they [the politicians] are not like us [the people]” and that “they do what they want” ignoring societies norms and principles, has the potential to increase the disenchantment with politics, where the media execution of politicians is just symptom. The general population is a bit weird in this sense because they want to believe that politicians are no weird kings, but normal people. That is the reason why yellow-press magazines are sold that often, because they give a glimpse of what the upper class is doing and thus increase societies cohesion to some degree. The same holds true for media campaigns such as if Frau Merkel says during elections, that she is doing the laundry and cooking soup for her husband at home the image is created that”they are like us”. It might be a bit childish, but it is still the principle of representative democracy: they represent us, therefore they should be like us. This is the whole idea of a nation state were people with similar tradition and history should decide over their faith and no external force is allowed to do this. The same principle was put forward for the rearmament of the German military after the lost World War 2: the Bundeswehr is no army, they instead are citizens with guns. If politicians keep neglecting this principle, the people loose their faith in democracy, which is already happening.

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